As thoughts turn at this time of year to living a healthier lifestyle, life coach Karen Whybrow recalls drowning her sorrows after her husband’s death – and the series of realisations that made her see that she needed to stop using alcohol to numb the pain.
“My husband Ben died from cancer three weeks before his 40th birthday when our daughters were just 13 months and three years old. With two young children to look after, I went into survival mode. My brain could barely absorb the shock and pain of what had happened and I lived each day on autopilot.
Grief gave me the excuse
The hardest time was after they went to bed, when ‘Why me? Why us?’ questions would race around my head. I’d reach for the red wine – after all, I told myself, I had the ultimate excuse. I didn’t drink loads, just a glass or two a night, but enough to stop me delving too deeply into the darkest bits of my brain.
Photo: Thomas Franke
The turning point
Around 10 months after his death, something changed. I asked myself a question I had been pushing to the back of my mind for a couple of days: ‘What would Ben say to me and what would he want me to do?’
He would want me and our girls to be happy, he would want me to look forward and use my past experiences for good, but most importantly he would want me to live the greatest life I possibly could. Looking at my life through Ben’s eyes was the wake-up call I needed.
Wake up call #1
I realised that red wine was not my friend. It wasn’t the amount I was drinking that was the problem, but the reason. I was using that nightly glass or two to run away from my feelings rather than confront them. If I was going to cope with all the one year markers coming up – the last time we went out for a meal or the last time he could walk down the stairs, and of course the anniversary of his death – I knew I had to do it with a clear head.
Wake-up call #2
I decided to take a break from alcohol, and soon realised what a huge impact that had on different areas of my life. The longer the wine stayed in the rack, the more my confidence grew, the less anxious I was, the more I found myself stepping out of my comfort zone alone and with my girls.
I haven’t drunk since then. Along with the meditation I practise, and writing a journal of my feelings, I’ve now been able to release a lot of the emotions that had been stuck inside me and found that I am stronger than I thought I was.
Photo: Aaron Burden
Wake-up call #3
If I had carried on drinking, it would have been very different. I would have stayed stuck in the ‘Why me?’ mindset that simply didn’t allow me to move forward.
Perhaps I went to extremes by giving up drinking completely, but that simply worked for me. I was looking for excuses to pour a glass of wine – and I felt I had plenty of them – so I don’t think moderation would have worked at that time.
I am proud of the life I have built now, and completely changed careers to work from home as a life coach at theanchorcoaching.com so I could be there for my girls. I also have a facebook page Hummingbird Widows.
The grief hasn’t magically gone away. It is always there. But there is more space around it now – room to fill with joy, fun and happiness.”
If you have lost a loved one and need to talk, we offer access to free confidential online bereavement support with specially trained professionals through our partnership with GriefChat.